Volkswagen cars being stored at Gary/Chicago International Airport

Volkswagen vehicles in a lot at the Gary/Chicago International Airport. The cars were taken off the road in light of an emissions-cheating scandal.

Jonathan Miano, The Times, file

PORTAGE — State officials collected comments and questions from about 30 public officials and business people Tuesday on the uses of $40.9 million that Indiana will receive as a result of the Volkswagen emissions scandal.

The forum was hosted by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and the Indiana Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust Fund Committee to discuss the grant program to lessen diesel exhaust emissions.

"No project is too small, and no project is really too large," IDEM Senior Environmental Manager Shawn Seals said.

Terry Butler, of the School City of Hammond, asked consideration for school bus funding. "We're running buses over 15 years old," he said. "There are districts that have buses 18 years old."

East Chicago schools transportation director Robert Garcia said the schools have purchased six propane-fueled buses that have saved the schools $23,000 in 10 months.

"The School City of East Chicago is committed to go green," he said, urging funding for schools. "I think that's the biggest need."

Public bus service representatives expressed interest in earning grants for bus replacement, too. David Wright, of the Gary Public Transportation Corp., said a grant to an organization like GPTC could not only assist the larger provider, but could free up other money for smaller transit providers.

Wright said the grant-making priorities should be "environmental justice, quality of life and mobility."

The money is to be used to offset pollution that resulted from Volkswagen's violation of emissions standards on more than 590,000 diesel-powered cars it sold in the United States beginning in 2009.

IDEM is developing a Beneficiary Mitigation Plan to detail the state's goals for the program. The 11-member trust fund committee is working with IDEM to finalize the plan and establish criteria for the funds' distribution, including grant maximums, requirements for a local funding match and types of projects to be funded.

The BMP is also required to explain how it will address pollution reduction in communities that have "a disproportionate air pollution burden."

"There are many, many different ways that we can identify areas that have a disproportionate air pollution burden," Seals said. Those can include vehicle-miles traveled and air monitor readings, he said.

The mitigation plan will include a scoring system that will judge a proposal's environmental impact. The scoring will also consider the level of funding the applying agency will provide as a match, among other factors.

The money can be used to repower or replace various types of diesel-powered freight trucks, buses, locomotives, boats, airport and port equipment. Repowering can mean a new, more efficient diesel engine, or one powered by natural gas or electricity.

Once the mitigation plan is complete, IDEM will solicit funding applications, likely this summer or fall. The grant money will be distributed over three years, and must be spent within 10.

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Transportation reporter

Andrew covers transportation, real estate, casinos and other topics for The Times business section. A Crown Point native, he joined The Times in 2014, and has more than 15 years experience as a reporter and editor at Region newspapers.